Jason van der Merwe’s playing career will turn full circle on Friday when he turns out for CIYMS in the Challenge Cup final against Civil Service North.

Six years ago he was not only playing for CSN against their east Belfast rivals but picking up the man of the match award, his unbeaten 98 taking them to a five wickets victory.

“The following year I went to CI but good memories, I’d a happy time at CSNI. I remember I owed them a few runs in the final, but I always back myself in big games and am happy to contribute.”

Van der Merwe will have to do it again this year at North Down because he hasn’t actually scored a run in CI’s cup run this season, missing the first two rounds with a back injury and he was not needed to bat in their big semi-final win over Lisburn.

“My first competitive game was at Carrick at the start of the month,” he says.

“I played a few pre-season (games) but hurt my lower back a week before the season started and could hardly stand. After 5-10 minutes I would have to sit down. So I’m just getting back into the swing of things and so hopefully I’ll be able to contribute in the final.”

The injury also kept van der Merwe off work for a lengthy period, a job that has had its own challenges over the last two years because the 30-year-old is a health care assistant in Holywell Hospital in Antrim and he had the full pandemic experience when Covid struck for the first time in March 2020.

“We are in a ward of 22 and everyone is close together so if one got it, it easily spread. And it was the same for the staff and it left the ward short of staff, so it was a stressful time. Every one of the patients had Covid at some stage, there were a couple of bad cases but we didn’t lose a single person, so we were lucky enough “

At least 10 of the staff also got it and then you are relying on people coming in who don’t know the ward so it was tough going. My wife is also a nurse in Holywell so we were both working through it. We both had Covid twice, in fact we had it at the same time so we were stuck in the house with our two kids, so not ideal.”

Restrictions are still very much in place in hospitals throughout the country but, fortunately, things seem be improving.

“We still wear our PPE and social distancing is still in place but we haven’t had a case in a while,” adds Jason who for the last year has been working nights to fit in with his cricket commitments.

“Instead of getting the day shifts covered I just need the Friday night off, although sometimes I have to go to work on a Saturday night straight after a match which isn’t ideal.

“But Holywell have been brilliant. They have put Marie and myself on different timesheets and we are never really stuck looking after the children. Both James (6) and Jessica (7) are cricket mad. If they are a bit naughty we would say ‘right, no cricket practice’ and that sorts them out. They’ve been to a few of our games this year.”

Van der Merwe insists CI have yet to play a game this season “we’ve been 100 per cent happy with” but they are not only chasing a third successive Challenge Cup success but today are in Dublin to face Phoenix with a first Irish Cup final in their sights.

“James Cameron-Dow is still missing with a knee problem and AC, Allen Coulter, has been out but is hoping to be back for the final, I think. It shows the strength of the team that they haven’t even been mentioned,” adds van der Merwe who has his own personal record to maintain. “

I’ve been in five finals and won them all, so I don’t want to start losing now.”

CIYMS v Civil Service North - The Green 11am Friday